March 2014

Welcome to SkyEye, your guide to this month's celestial events.

The Calendar

Date Event
1 Sat New Moon
2 Sun
3 Mon
4 Tue
5 Wed
6 Thu
7 Fri
8 Sat First Quarter Moon
9 Sun
10 Mon
11 Tue Moon at apogee
12 Wed
13 Thu
14 Fri Mercury at greatest elongation west
15 Sat
16 Sun Full Moon
17 Mon
18 Tue
19 Wed
20 Thu 163 Erigone occults first magnitude star Regulus: visible from eastern Canada and northeastern United States, and beginning around 05:50 UT.
Earth at equinox: the word equinox means 'equal night' so that on this day, the (centre of the) Sun spends an equal amount of time above and below the horizon everywhere on the planet.
21 Fri Moon occults Saturn: visible from parts of South America, the mid-Atlantic Ocean and southern Africa, and beginning around 01:00 UT.
22 Sat Venus at greatest elongation west
23 Sun
24 Mon Last Quarter Moon
25 Tue
26 Wed
27 Thu Moon at perigee
28 Fri
29 Sat
30 Sun The second Full Moon in a calendar month is popularly known as a 'Blue Moon', but what do you call the second New Moon in a calendar month?
31 Mon

The Solar System

The word planet is derived from the Greek word for 'wanderer'. Unlike the background stars, planets seem to move around the sky, keeping mostly to a narrow track called the ecliptic, the path of the Sun across the stars. Dwarf planets and small solar-system bodies, including comets, are not so constrained, often moving far above or below the ecliptic.

Sun AquariusPisces

The solar south pole is most inclined toward the Earth early this month.

Mercury AquariusCapricornusAquariusCapricornus

The smallest planet in the solar system reaches greatest elongation west on 14 March. A morning sky object, Mercury is best seen from southern latitudes, rising high into the morning twilight ahead of the Sun. For northern hemisphere observers, it remains stubbornly close to the horizon throughout the month.

Venus SagittariusCapricornusAquarius

The morning star reaches greatest elongation west on 22 March. Those viewing this bright planet from southern latitudes will see it climb very high in the east but it remains nearly stationary in altitude for northern hemisphere observers.

Mars Virgo

The red planet rises earlier in the evening and is well-placed for viewing as it heads towards opposition next month.

163 Erigone Leo

On 20 March, beginning around 05:50 UT, the asteroid 163 Erigone will occult the first magnitude star Regulus. This naked eye event will be visible from a narrow path across Nunavut, Ontario and Quebec in Canada, and New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in the United States. 163 Erigone is found in the main asteroid belt. Discovered in 1876, it has a diameter of about 73 kilometres and a semi-major axis of 2.367 AU. It takes 3.64 years to circle the Sun.

Jupiter Gemini

The largest planet in the solar system still rules the skies this month but is setting ever earlier. Look for it in the southwest and west.

Saturn Libra

Saturn rises about two hours after Mars and is getting easier to observe as the month progresses.

Uranus Pisces

This ice giant is getting increasingly difficult to see in the evening twilight as it approaches conjunction with the Sun next month.

Neptune Aquarius

A small telescope is necessary to view the most distant planet in the solar system but potential observers won't get much joy this month. Neptune was at solar conjunction in February and is lost in the morning twilight.

The Celestial Sphere

Constellations are patterns of stars in the sky. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) recognises 88 different constellations. The brightest stars as seen from the Earth are easy to spot but do you know their proper names? With a set of binoculars you can look for fainter objects such as nebulae and galaxies and star clusters or some of the closest stars to the Sun.

Descriptions of the sky for observers in both the northern and southern hemispheres are available for the following times this month. Subtract one hour from your local time if summer (daylight savings) time is in effect.

Local Time Northern Hemisphere Southern Hemisphere
1730 hours (1830 hours summer time) 45° N 30° S
1930 hours (2030 hours summer time) 45° N 30° S
2130 hours (2230 hours summer time) 45° N 30° S
2330 hours (0030 hours summer time) 45° N 30° S
0130 hours (0230 hours summer time) 45° N 30° S
0330 hours (0430 hours summer time) 45° N 30° S
0530 hours (0630 hours summer time) 45° N 30° S